I am lucky enough to have a guest post from physical culturist and supersmart dude, Jarell Lindsey guest posting today on the subject of isometrics, which, as you may know, is a subject I LOVE. Check it out.
Why Isometrics Is Critical For Your Strength Training
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that, even if you know about isometric training, what you know is probably wrong. I say this because the things I've seen on the Web about isometric training is largely misinformed, with a few exceptions. If the things I read about isometrics were true, I'd understand why no one would want to do them; however, isometrics are largely underrated as an exercise, and here's why.
The 15º Argument. One of the biggest arguments against isometric exercises is that they only improve strength in a 15º range from the angle the exercise is done. This means that you'd have to do a whole bunch of exercises at different angles just to get the same benefits as a full range exercise. That's a load of biscuits. That would make sense if a muscle only contracted in sections relative to the angle you worked. Instead, muscles contract or relax. That's it. They don't activate certain sections, so when you do an isometric exercise, the WHOLE muscle contracts, so the WHOLE muscle benefits. The difference with isometrics and full range exercises is with the nervous system, not the muscle; when you do a full range movement, your nervous system gets more efficient at those movements. Isometrics just builds overall, unspecific strength from the inside out.
The Functional Strength Argument. Another argument is that, because you aren't actually moving, isometric exercises don't help with functional strength. This is a very relative statement, because weightlifting won't make you a better sprinter, and wrestling won't make you a better boxer. Functional strength is relative to each individual activity, so no, isometrics will not technically build you functional strength. But for general movement, strength application, exercise, running, and pretty much all physical activity, isometrics will strengthen you, perhaps more than many other forms of exercise. Again, if you want sport specific function, train specifically for that sport, but isometrics will be great to help you build strength and conditioning. Furthermore, if you do choose to train isometrics in various angles, it's even better for general function because various angle isometric exercises do a lot to develop tendon strength.
Isometrics Don't Build Muscle. This statement is just intrinsically false. One of the first experiments of isometrics involving a frog whose leg was tied to a support showed that the frog's isometric contractions built so much muscle in that one leg that the frog jumped lop-sided. Isometrics can and do build muscle...wait for it...BUT. You won't get much muscle growth unless you do a maximal contraction. Holding a heavy weight in your hand until it drops is a cool way to train isometrics, but that's not a maximal contraction. Maximal isometrics is loading 700 lbs on the bar when you can only curl 150 lbs, but still putting all your energy into the lift as if you were going to lift it regardless. Doing an isometric push up hold for long periods of time will build some pretty decent strength, but trying to isometrically bench press a weight that's way too heavy for you will fatigue your muscles much quicker (if you do try this, please be safe with it and make sure to breathe properly throughout the exercise).
Now isometrics don't generally give you bodybuilder size muscle, simply because isometrics builds on your strength proportional to your size. Nevertheless, there is a way to train isometrics for mass, which involves sub-maximal contractions for reps. Let's take the weight holding example; if you held a heavy weight in a curl position until your arm fatigued, you'd develop a little strength, but if you repeat that 8-10 times in your workout, you'll build some serious size. Basically, maximal isometric contractions = incredible strength; sub-maximal isometric contractions for reps = mass. Happy training :)
Jarell Lindsey is an avid physical culturist, and owner of MuscularStrengthSystem.com. He is an advocate of isometric training, and enjoys catch wrestling, sparring, or exercising in his free time. His training advice can be found on fitness, martial arts, and health sites across the web. Coming from a family plagued with various health conditions, he has been in pursuit of the best methods of health management and strength training around since youth. He is currently studying for a Bachelors in Exercise Science, and he hopes to motivate more youth to pursue physical fitness as a lifestyle. He offers training and diet advice, interviews from leading fitness experts, and self improvement advice. Ultimately, he encourages a physical culture revolution to overcome the modern health crisis.